If you’ve never played an Oddworld installment and are now subconsciously trying to figure it out judging by the name, let me spare you from having to ponder, “are the games weird?” Yes. Yes they are. Some might say, “odd.”
Taking place in an alternate universe, the quintology of Oddworld games generally share the theme of an alien world endangered by evil industrial corporations. You face off against the evil corporations by taking control of one or more protagonists, and warding off bad guys, sabotaging plans for global domination by the aforementioned villainous companies, etc, in order to save the planet.
In the case of Munch’s Oddysee, it is the third release in the quadruple-title series, originally dropped in 2001 on the Xbox, and later ported absolutely everywhere. The version I’m playing is the HD remake on the PS Vita, although it’s been re-released on various consoles since 2010.
This is my third game of the Oddworld series, and I must first admit that I was not particularly a big fan of the first Oddworld, Abe’s Oddysee. I found it very tedious to get the perfect timing down, and the repetitive nature of the levels that forced you to repeat steps many, many times, as you trial-and-errored through each level. In reality, I probably just sucked too badly at it and was being impatient, and so I may have to return later to give it a deserving second shot. The other game in the series that I own is Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath HD, also remastered on various consoles, also on my PS Vita. I enjoyed the gameplay but it fell out of my queue, and I never put more than three or so hours into it.
So why’d I buy this game, my third for the series, even though the first two left me underwhelmed? Honestly, it’s because I knew this was a great series and I needed to have it and would, someday, enjoy it. And at this point, I’m about 2/3rds done with the game, and I’m still really enjoying it!
For some reason, I have always been fascinated with games that let you control “workers.” It probably started with Lemmings from when I was a little kid, or Dungeon Keeper later in my teenage years, but either way, the concept of being all-powerful with the ability to send monsters to do my bidding has always gotten me engaged. The Oddworld games (at least the first three in the series) are all about navigating through levels, solving puzzles, and dodging obstacles, all the while helping save members of your species.
In Munch’s Oddysee, you begin by taking control of a creature who only slightly resembles a frog, called a Gabbit, and basically nothing else of this world. The creature is named Munch and his species has been fished to the point of near-extinction by the evil industries. After he gets trapped and taken into captivity, the player assumes control of the series’ main protagonist, Abe. Eventually, the two meet up, and thus your journey truly begins, as the two wildly different characters with diverse sets of skills must work together to save the Gabbit species. The story is wild and ridiculous, the plot absurd, the cutscenes bizarre and hilarious; it’s just a great formula.
The first thing I must say about this game is that the controls came dangerously close to turning me off to the game altogether. The control using the left joystick is sloppy at best, and while you can eventually get a rhythm going, I feel like it took me nearly half the game to score about a 35% competency rating. That’s not confidence inspiring when it comes to the tighter stuff. In a game with platforming, that can lead to a lot of cursing.
It’s worth mentioning here that Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee is the first game in the series that transitioned from 2D to 3D. In a game with a lot of control precision involved and practically required, adding a third plane could sound like a deal breaker, particularly at the time the game was released when similar attempts ended below par. Munch’s Oddysee somehow manages to hold itself together, although it’s still without its bugginess. It’s more a case of learning to color in between the squiggly lines. In other words, ya work with what you’ve got.
Hopefully you’re not playing another 3D platformer simultaneously, because this game will seriously screw up your sense of movement!
Once you get moving along, it becomes immediately noticeable just how different Munch and Abe control. Abe is bipedal and runs like your average human would, but he jumps fast and high. Munch hops around like a bunny very slowly. However, there are sometimes spawn pads that spawn a wheelchair that he can ride. Abe can also lead Mudokens and order them to work or fight for him. The only trait they seem to share is their complete incompetence of fighting.
Leading these two characters is the direct responsibility of the player, yet having these characters lead NPCs quickly becomes your primary responsibility. From level to level, you generally have a simple goal in mind, getting from point A to point B, but some levels require you to rescue two different creatures: Mudokens, the same species as Abe, and Fuzzles, adorable little fuzzy spheres, which only Munch can communicate with after he saves them. Both Munch and Abe have their own amounts of “spooce” which are little watermelon things you find on the ground. These can be spent upgrading Mudokens to being more capable fighters, to open doors, etc. Also, Abe can regenerate spooce. There are a lot of little bullet points in this game.
For example, you may have to get over a body of water to rescue a Mudoken, but only Munch can swim. Unfortunately, only Abe can lead Mudoken and throw them around. Meanwhile you need to get Munch up a level that only Abe can reach. Working through these types of puzzles can be very rewarding and also frustrating while trying to figure out the best time to use the game mechanics. What’s done well is the slow-drip paced timing that these gameplay mechanics are introduced. It’s also easy to forget how to play this game if you take a few days off playing something else.
You also have so many things to save, and it might sound like the longest follow quest in the history of gaming, and nobody likes those. Luckily, the AI is pretty decent, and the NPCs you rescue and lead handle themselves in a relatively predictable manner. Of course, you’ll lose the occasion Fuzzle or two, but it won’t do much to hurt your Quarma, the in-game karma system that can alter the end-game.
Confused yet? There are a lot of elements to Oddworld in conversation, but it is all introduced at what I find to be a decent pacing. All of these things together adds a big potential for complexity and it shows in the level design.
All in all, there are 25 levels, and some of them can take quite a while. It is also possible for you to “break” a level by doing something out-of-order, and be forced to start all over again. No joke, it took me over an hour to beat a single level after I repeated the same mistake twice. But, despite some tough-to-wrangle control schemes, the average level takes about 20 minutes to a half hour.
Within each level, there are all sorts of puzzles to work past, most of them making good use of the 3D nature of the world. There are plenty of obstacles as well, as you seek out Mudokens and Fuzzles in need of rescue. Water, landmines, enemies – there are tons of traps to negotiate and only with patience and precision can you see through to the end of each level.
Spread throughout some levels are vending machines filled with Cola that gives Munch and Abe various benefits. My personal favorite because of the chaotic nature is the one that gives Munch a hilariously fast hopping speed, making him insanely difficult to control, all the while flopping all over the ground when you jump. The accompanying sound effects and atmospheric score do even more to make the whole scene a riot.
One of the issues with puzzles and platformers that require precision is that you oftentimes have to start over. The ability to quick save has been added to Munch’s Oddysee, and the save-absolutely-anywhere capability is a godsend to do away with the repetitive nature of previous installments. I know for a fact that without the ability to quick save, I never would have made it this far into the game. A lack of it is what drove me a little nuts at times in Rayman 3.
Overall what gives this game such a high score in my book is that you can tell how much work went into it. I’ve talked about this before regarding video games – what ultimately draws me to a game and ensures that I’ll like it enough to see it through to the end is that I get the feeling that the creators wanted me to enjoy their vision. Same can be said for upcoming games where the whole concept is risky, and yet, you know by listening to the developers talk about their baby whether the game will be high quality or not. Really, this game made me think of how much love and polish Nintendo puts into their titles.
From the sound effects and goofy voices to the quirky cutscenes and fourth-wall-breaking self-awareness that knows no bounds, the charm is real with Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee. It keeps you chanting “one more level!” amidst the actual cultish in-game chanting. I highly recommend you give it a shot – watch a gameplay video or so to see if it’s your speed. If you like 3D platform puzzlers, Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee will be a solid addition to your collection.